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I know nothing about the outside world. I do not have money to invest. I know my mother in law will object. I have so many constrains. All I know is I love to cook and feed people.
With a hint of red lipstick, a big red bindi, thick red vermilion, a crisp red and white cotton saree, Shikha was ready to step out. These four days of festivity and euphoria is something every Bengali across the globe looks forward to all year.
For Shikha, these four days of ‘Durga Puja’ were not just about fun and frolic. She had a responsibility too. Over the years, she discharged this supreme responsibility with perfection. In her locality, a community Durga Puja was organised every year where all the residents participated with vigour and enthusiasm. Shikha led the group of ladies responsible for preparing ‘bhog’, the food offered to Goddess Durga.
As she entered the designated kitchen room, she greeted other ladies and was pleasantly surprised to see Ruma. Clad in a bright orange saree with big bindi, Ruma looked divine. Her look was in sharp contrast to the western attire she usually wore.
Shikha said enthusiastically, “Nice to see you Ruma.”
“Hi Shikha, Yes I thought I will join all you ladies this Durga Puja. It will be a new experience for me,” said a beaming Ruma.
All the ladies got busy in preparing scrumptious Bengali cuisine for offering to the Goddess. After the mammoth task, Shikha and Ruma got an opportunity to grab two chairs and discuss life. On other days, they could barely exchange pleasantries. Today they had time to talk. “Ruma, you must be very busy the entire day?” enquired Shikha.
“Oh Yes! Mine is a crazy routine. I get up early morning, cook and then drop my daughter to school. A long day at work managing my clients, deadlines, demanding boss. On way back, I buy few essentials and pick her from day care. Again, in the evening, I help her with her studies, do my office work and dinner. All day, I am chasing time. It’s maddening managing everything single handed. These four days of festivity is a break from the breathless routine of my everyday life.”
Shikha kept quiet for a while as if she was gathering her thoughts and then said with a tone of disappointment, “As you know, I do not have a bundle of joy to keep me busy all day. Neither I am educated enough to get a job. All I wanted was to become a good homemaker and a mom. But God was not generous to me. I failed. You won’t believe I have become so obsessed with keeping my house neat that I am always cleaning things with a piece of cloth. I failed in one aspect. I crave for perfection in every other aspect.”
“But Shikha, not becoming mom is not in your hands. It is not your fault.” Ruma said with a frown. “Who understands this? Every day I face the taunts of my mother in law. I could not carry the lineage of the family. I wasted so much money in my treatment. I do not have the education or ability to earn money and built assets. I am a failure. The worst part is my husband is a mute spectator to this onslaught of insult every single day.” Shikha shared with remorse.
“That’s sad,” Ruma said in a feeble voice. Shikha continued, “Sometimes other relatives join her too and the verbal lashes become more painful. I am accountable for every single penny I spend. Life seems trapped in a cage.”
Just then, the sombreness in their discussion was interrupted by a group of acquaintances who had the ‘bhog’. They showered Shikha with lot of compliments and appreciated her culinary skills.
After they left, Ruma patted Shikha and said, “See people are so satiated after having your food. You are amazing.” Shikha gleamed, “Thank you. I like to cook. My husband’s grandmother had left behind a handwritten cookbook of some authentic forgotten recipes of East Bengal. Most of them have elaborate and cumbersome procedures. I have mastered them all and got appreciation from many of our relatives. Like I told you, failure in one aspect makes me go the extra mile to achieve perfection in other aspects. I am happy at least I am being able to forward the legacy of the family in cooking. Ruma smiled, “You are exceptional in this craft. You should think of having a career in this.”
At night, Shikha pondered a lot. She kept tossing and turning in bed. An idea kept her awake. She saw a dream through her open eyes. Next day, while preparing ‘bhog’ she wanted to share her dream with Ruma. But was hesitant. Sensing her restlessness, Ruma asked, “What’s wrong? It seems you are jittery. Tell me. I am all ears.” Shikha looked up, “Once when I was unwell, my husband had ordered home cooked tiffin service. Can’t I do something of that sort? Many people in offices and even at home order home cooked food. I can provide. Can’t I?”
Ruma replied ecstatically, “Of course, you can. People will love your food. It’s a great idea.”
“Just living is not enough, I want to have an identity of my own. I want to earn respect. I know nothing about the outside world. I do not have money to invest. I know my mother in law will object. I have so many constrains. All I know is I love to cook and feed people.” Ruma kept quiet.
Silence spoke for a while. Then, she grabbed Shikha’s hands and said, “I will be with you. Making your passion your profession is the best things. I always wanted to do something of my own. Being a single mom and doing this corporate slavery is killing me. I am just living life like a robot. I do not know how long I can sustain this kind of work pressure. The guilt of not being able to spend time with my daughter corrodes me. I want to work from the comforts of my home. Let’s partner – your skill and my brain.” They hugged each other.
Amidst the festive aura, Shikha’s dream got wings. She was ready to fly. She finalised the menu. Ruma used her years of corporate experience and finalised the plan for investment, launch and promotion of homecooked tiffin and catering service ‘Love and Mustard’. She decided to start the business venture initially along with her job and later to get into it full time quitting her job.
It was Vijayadashami, the last day of Durga Puja. All the ladies of their locality were teary eyed bidding adieu to Goddess Durga. But Shikha and Ruma looked at each other and smiled, for in this end was their beginning. As the idol of the Goddess was immersed in water, their resentment too was immersed. What remained was the newfound love for life and the zeal to make their dream project successful.
This story had been shortlisted for the August 2018 Muse of the Month, but not among the top 5 winners.
Image source: shutterstock
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